Media and Children – Part 2 – American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for ages 5-18 years


This is the second part of the 2-part series based on American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation for children’s use of media. In this part, we will cover what the report states as recommendations for school-aged children and adolescents covering children aged 5 years to 18 years.

The report speaks of the benefits and challenges relating to use of  media which it defines as broadcast media (including TV and movies) and interactive media which covers social media, apps and video games.

Children can benefit some using media in some of the following ways:

  • Gaining exposure to news ideas and information
  • Raising their awareness of current events and issues
  • Gaining opportunities for community participation and civic engagement
  • Collaborating on assignments and projects with other students on online platforms
  • Connecting with friends and families spread across geographies
  • Access to valuable support networks for patients with illness, conditions or disabilities
  • Useful supplementary resource for health-related information
  • Fostering social inclusion among users who may feel excluded. e.g. those identifying as LGBTQ

Some of the risks involved for children and adolescents while using media include:

  • Obesity – kids between 4-9 years watching TV for more than 1.5 hours are at risk of obesity and adolescents watching for more than 5 hours per day are at 5 times higher risk for obesity. Sedentary screen-time leads to snacking and higher exposure to advertising for high-calorie foods and snacks (read junk food) both of which increase the risk for obesity. Importantly, having TV in the bedroom is associated with risk of obesity
  • Poor sleep – studies state that children with high media usage or those who sleep with their mobile devices were at risk of sleep disturbance. Specifically, media use before or around bedtime can disrupt sleep and negatively impact school performance
  • Problematic internet use and internet gaming disorder – overuse of online media and video games can lead to these two conditions respectively. While these conditions need more research, they are mentioned in a leading manual of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. “Symptoms can include a preoccupation with the activity, decreased interest in offline or “real life” relationships, unsuccessful attempts to decrease use, and withdrawal symptoms.”
  • Impact on learning – the report states that at home, many children and teenagers use entertainment media at the same time as they do other tasks such as finishing their homework. According to new evidence, “use of media while engaged in academic tasks has negative consequences on learning.”
  • Higher exposure to alcohol, tobacco or sexual behaviours in media is linked with earlier initiation of these behaviours among adolescents – the report states that adolescents display on social media often include “portrayal of health risk behaviors, such as substance use, sexual behaviors, self-injury, or disordered eating” and their peer group often perceives this as desirable. We know that adolescents have a higher proclivity to risky behaviour but here we see how the online media makes the access and pressure to conform to such risky behaviour ubiquitous
  • Cyber-bullying – again the report acknowledges how bullying is common during adolescence and hence cyber-bullying and traditional bullying  overlap. But cyber-bullying has its own set of challenges because the bully can be anonymous, can engage in bullying any time of the day and the information can spread rapidly. Also roles of the bully and bullied are fluid in the online world where a child who is bullied may end up bullying another one. The report states that cyber-bullying can lead to both short-term and long-term negative consequences on the health, social and academic life of both the bully and the bullied
  • Sexting – the report defines sexting “as the electronic transmission of nude or seminude images as well as sexually explicit text messages”. While the report doesn’t delve too much on the reasons and negative outcomes such as privacy and safety risks, humiliation (sometimes described as ‘revenge porn’) it does highlight how the Internet has created “opportunities for the exploitation of children by sex offenders through social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online games.”
  • Mental health – use of social media in moderation is linked with benefits such as enhanced social support and connection. Interestingly, extremely high as well as extremely low ends of internet use are seen to coincide with depression. “One study found that older adolescents who used social media passively (eg, viewing others’ photos) reported declines in life satisfaction, whereas those who interacted with others and posted content did not experience these declines.” My own understanding is that their online social behaviour maybe an extension of their existing status among their classmates – whether they are popular, controversial, neglected or rejected and even when away from their peers, the online medium becomes a painful reminder of their “place” atleast in their social world
  • Privacy risks – the content that adolescents choose to post about themselves on social media puts them at risk of “privacy violations and unwelcome distribution”. While understanding of their privacy itself is an area of work for many adolescents, studies (these are with American students) prove that “even those who know how to set privacy settings often don’t believe they will work.”

The last and one can argue a critical point of the report is about how parents use media and how that impacts their children’s health. It talks about media is distracting and that distraction may often take the parents away from important opportunities for emotional connections that are known to improve child health. It reiterates that parental engagement is “critical in the development of children’s emotional and social development, and these distractions may have short- and long-term negative effects.”

In terms of recommendations for parents of children aged 5 years-10 years, many of them overlap with the recommendations shared for children between 0-5 years covered in the previous post

  • Monitor and address both for how much time is media used by children as well as the content of what they are watching to assess if its appropriate for their age
  • Engage in selecting and co-viewing media with your children so they can use media to learn and be creative, also making media-viewing a more social experience
  • Ensure that their media use does not interrupt their health needs such as daily physical activity (1 hour) and sleep (8-12 hours, depending on age)
  • Recommend that children do not sleep with devices in their bedrooms and avoid exposure to screen-time one hour before bedtime
  • Designate media-free times (e.g. meal-times) and media-free locations (e.g. bedrooms)

There are some additional recommendations for this age group –

  • Discourage entertainment media while doing homework
  • Communicate guidelines to other care-givers so they are consistently followed by grandparents, babysitters as the case maybe
  • “Have ongoing communication with children about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline, avoiding cyberbullying and sexting, being wary of online solicitation, and avoiding communications that can compromise personal privacy and safety.”
  • “Actively develop a network of trusted adults (eg, aunts, uncles, coaches, etc) who can engage with children through social media and to whom children can turn when they encounter challenges.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a resource for parents to manage their family’s media use. The AAP has created the MediaUsePlan, a resource that can help parents prioritise the health and well-being imperatives for children shared in the above recommendations.

We are planning future series on the issue of media use by children. If you have an idea or would like to share your voice, write to us at connectATcandidlyDOTin.

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